Monday, March 24, 2008

An American Way for a Zero Carbon Future

Guest Perspective/Roy Morrison

If we’re concerned about global warming, endless wars for oil, nuclear proliferation, and our economic future then we need to face four very convenient truths.

Combining four very American enthusiasms: the automobile, electricity, free renewable fuel, and market opportunities, makes a zero carbon future ours for the taking.

That’s right. In this zero carbon future we can drive with no gas and no pollution, turn on our computers to connect us to a smart global grid, and get checks in the mail every month for our troubles.

The technologies are at hand or need just the slightest push. New plug-in electric cars using lithium-ion batteries will be charged at night from a renewable grid and help provide peak daytime power while we’re at work. This is doable. Just a small percentage of our millions of cars can give us much of the energy needed to balance and stabilize a renewable energy grid system.

Copious wind resources on farm and ranch land from the Dakotas to Texas will be combined with solar electric concentrators and PV panels from the South West and local PV arrays covering our roofs and parking lots. DC power lines, underground if necessary, will facilitate moving the power to where it’s needed.

The system will be integrated and coordinated through a smart electric grid using real time price control to optimize energy use and energy generation. We’ll buy power when it’s cheap, and sell it back into the grid when it’s expensive.

By using renewable energy hedges, like the one negotiated between Southern New Hampshire University and PPM Energy, every energy consumer and car and PV panel owner will have a profitable stake in our common renewable energy future. We can use our energy purchases and investments in plug in vehicles and photovoltaics to fix our net annual energy expenses for a generation, and receive monthly income for buying our grid tied cars and home PV systems.

We don’t need to subsidize nukes and watch more countries build bombs while we pile up the waste. We don’t need to subsidize corn ethanol and turn food for a hungry world into fuel that raises food prices for the poor and does little to reduce net carbon. We don’t need to lop off the top of our mountains and subsidize “clean coal”, or try to capture and inject carbon dioxide into the ground in the hopes it will stay there for five-hundred years. We don’t have to send our kids and loved ones to fight wars for oil when we have more than enough energy from the sun and wind.

And yes there’s more. Combined heat and power that turns every heating system into a micro-generator, and district heating from existing urban power plants should play a part. Compressed air, capacitors, and flywheels can help balance the renewable grid. We need to adopt high efficiency standards and zero pollution industrial ecological practices using “waste” from one process as input for another. We can use duck weed and water hyacinths fed by our sewage plants and agricultural runoff to produce enormous amounts of biomass for bio-fuels.

We can make the whole thing work rather painlessly by phasing out income taxes, abolishing the IRS, and phasing in ecological consumption taxes on all goods and services. If something pollutes more, it will cost more. If something pollutes les, it will cost less. The market price, not just regulation will tell us what to do.

Wake up America. Let’s use our cars, electricity, free renewable fuel, and the market to build a zero carbon, sustainable, and peaceful future.

Roy Morison is Director of the Office for Sustainability at Southern New Hampshire University. His latest book is "Markets, Democracy & Survival," available online at He can be contacted at or

No comments: